It is noteworthy that the report is more in the form of a detailed minute of the meeting and does not set out any specific recommendations or next steps. The below excerpt is from the final section – Vote of thanks and way forward:
Ms Kubayi thanked all participants for their honest engagement during the meeting which would assist the Portfolio Committee in its future deliberations. She noted that this discussion was necessary, as the interactive session helped members to understand the critical issues within the sector on this topic. The committee would now be assisted by making an informed decision based on the information received. She highlighted that the committee would want to engage more, absorb and hear the voices coming from the sector. She committed that this will happen again in the near future.
She concluded by saying that she hoped it was a fruitful discussion for all participants and that the committee looks forward to continuous engagement in determining how to deal with the issues of OTT and other matters in future.
The focus now turns to the White Paper on ICT Policy due to be published by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services during March 2016. This White Paper is likely to set out policy regarding net neutrality and OTTs which will be the basis for any further legislative or regulatory action.
___[6 March 2016] The Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services had some interesting things to say in her address to the Sub Saharan Africa Regional Summit on 24 February 2016. The Minister spoke to role of ICTs in facilitating the achievement of 3 Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) in South Africa: good jobs and economic growth; inclusive and equitable quality education; and, achieving gender equality.
Of specific interest is the set of principles for the Internet listed by the Minister – including a commitment to net neutrality (our emphasis):
- The South African government acknowledges that the Internet is a global resource which enhances domestic socio-economic development.
- South Africa will choose the most relevant and enabling governance and administration frameworks at a local and international level.
- The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations.”
- All users must be able to legally access and share information as well as run applications and services of their choice.
- All Internet traffic must be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, regardless of the sender, receiver, content, device, service, or application.
- Internet governance must respect and promote cultural and linguistic diversity.
- Any changes in internet development and Governance Frameworks, must not allow disruptions to the operational stability of the Internet.
- The Internet must remain a unified global network that is stable, secure, resilient, trustworthy, reliable, interconnected and accessible to all users across the world.
- Lastly, the Internet must continue to be based on open standards to facilitate innovation and to allow everyone to participate equally in the global community
___[3 February 2016] Below are links to the three main presentations made at the meeting on the 26th January as well as that made by the Internet Service Providers’ Association:
- Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services
- South African Communications Forum
- Internet Service Providers’ Association
___[16 January 2016] Public awareness of the scheduled hearings has seen a massive amount of interest in this issue, prompting the Portfolio Committee to issue a statement on its reasons for seemingly prioritising the matter. The statement makes it clear that the process has been initiated at the request of mobile network operators and that it relates to the challenge OTT services pose to the revenue of these operators:
Parliament, Thursday 14 January 2016 – The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal services is set to look into the complaint of mobile networks regarding “Over-The-Top” (OTT) services, and the challenge these services pose on revenue of cellphone giants.
Mobile operators are requesting that Parliament consider passing a policy or regulations of data services on mobile networks such that they generate revenue for carrying the data services on their bandwidth infrastructure.
The meeting where stakeholders will be given a hearing by the Committee will happen on Tuesday, the 26th of January in Parliament. The Chairperson of the Committee, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi, said the Committee is always ready to listen and engage every member of the South African society.
Stakeholders that are expected to attend include network operators, relevant ICT bodies and the Internet Service Providers.
ISSUED BY PARLIAMENTARY COMMUNICATION SERVICES ON BEHALF OF THE CHAIRPERSON, MS MMAMOLOKO KUBAYI
___[12 January 2016] The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services has scheduled hearings into the possible regulation of Over-The-Top (OTT) services for a full day on 26 January 2016 (venue still to be determined). The hearings are intended to consider the following:
- Necessary Policy interventions on how to govern OTTs;
- Regulatory interventions on the guidelines to regulate OTTs;
- Impact of OTTs on competition; and
- Is there a need for the OTTs to be defined as telecom services (voice or data) or telecom infrastructure, and thus whether they should be subject to licensing and regulatory obligations (such as legal intercept and emergency call access) or not?
This follows calls by Vodacom and MTN for OTT services to be regulated in South Africa, as well as the recent blocking of Viber, Skype and Whatsapp by the mobile networks in Morocco (see story by Russell Southwood in Balancing Act – The Battle over VoIP and resisting the future – Trend towards Skype, Viber and What’s App begins to bite into African operators’ premium revenues).